Our stories contain endless depths to explore and lessons to learn. For instance, I just realized a powerful new life lesson from two of the worst moments in my life.
I distinctly remember sitting on a plane 13 years ago and experiencing by far the worst turbulence I’ve ever felt (and I’ve flown several hundred times). While everyone else gasped, cried out, and looked terrified, with an inner smile of relief I silently said, “Thank God I’m going to die now and the pain will be over!” Why?
Have you ever had things go sideways? Has life ever gone out of control? I was 31 or so at the time, and to that point much of life had gone as planned and expected. Yet, by the time I was on the plane wanting to die, my first wife and I were in the midst of a serious mess! We’d grown apart, I’d been young and selfish, and our unaddressed childhood traumas were like wounds that had just burst open. With that, and more, in play, months before Amy had courageously decided to move home to Washington state with our young daughter to heal and figure things out, while I stayed working in the Air Force in Las Vegas.
I was on the plane hoping to die because the life I wanted had fallen apart, as my wife, daughter and I were separated, divorce was on the table, and NEITHER of these situations was okay with me. While all this was true, what I recently realized goes a layer deeper. A natural part of any change, loss, unmet expectation, or unfulfilled plan/dream (all forms of death) is grief, I had avoided it, and it was unraveling me in the worst way possible!
Now, let’s fast forward to 2013, when I was about a month away from a second divorce I didn’t want, but am now super grateful for. After spending a few months at my parents, while trying to work things out with Carla, I’d accepted “defeat” and moved into my own place. While unpacking a box I came across our vows, we’d written our own. Reading Carla’s promises wrecked me. I came totally undone, bowed down and wracked by sobs with tears pouring down my face for minutes beyond measure.
As unpleasant and unwanted as this experience was, it was IMMENSELY healing and transformative. While in the first story I’d fled my grief, in the second I dove in and felt my sorrow richly and deeply, which allowed grief to give me its gift. I’d sum up the difference between my two experiences (or “deaths”, as we’re talking about in this blog series, because any change, loss, transition, etc. is a small death) in a way that’s applicable to us all like this:
Grief unravels us … period. The question is, will we work with it and be transformed, or will we avoid it and just be undone?
By the way, this is Part 3 in a series of blogs I’m writing to get us talking about death. You can check out the first blog here: https://gracenpeaceyoga.com/2019/05/17/how-the-way-we-approach-death-is-killing-us-lets-talk-about-death-part-1/
I think we have the phrase “good grief”, becausesimply put: Grief is good for us. It heals and expands our bodies, minds, and spirits, while also uniting and connecting us with others. Generally speaking, diving into sorrow is meant to be a communal activity. As Paul writes in Romans 12.15, rejoice with those who rejoice and mourn with those who mourn.
In my mind, some of the most powerful words ever are found in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount. For instance, in Matthew 5.4 Jesus says, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” The Greek word we translate “blessed” more fully means you have the favor of God, the Divine is hugging you, and the Spirit is on your side. In my experience:Truly, truly when we open ourselves to grief, when we dive in and let it wash us out, when we feel it in our tissues for however long it takes, we are going withthe flow of the Universe and will receive grief’s gift of a bigger, fuller, and more whole and healthy heart and being!
Let me put it two different ways to wrap us up.
Going through the mourning process is an act of surrendering. It’s a giving up of control. When we grieve, we crack our hearts open to something bigger than and beyond ourselves, which, over time, will fill us with peace and joy beyond understanding. I name this “something” God, as revealed by Jesus, whether or not you need to too to experience the same health and wholeness I have, I can’t say with any certainty, I can only speak to my experience (and would be honored to hear yours!).
Do you ever wish you could fast-forward or skip the hard parts for the fun times in life? I know I do! It seems to me that in the same way in nature’s cycles spring comes after winger, and in the circle of life birth comes after death and decay, in personal growth and development a more grateful, compassionate, kind, satisfied, peaceful, and joyful life comes after grieving well. Looking back on my life I see this more clearly than ever. Every death, be it a divorce, miscarriage, job lost, hope dashed, project failed, miscommunication with a friend, and so on, warrants a grieving process.
In a very real way, grieving is dying. Yet when we avoid it,as I did in my first story,we end up dying MORE, as we become smaller, more closed off, more depressed, more untrusting, and afraid. Conversely, when we embrace grief, like I did with Carla, on the other side of this “death” we find a new, fuller, more open, more joyous, more connected, and loving life!
I’m really enjoying talking about death, and hope you are too! What are your thoughts on and experiences of the gift of grief?
(You can continue on to the next blog in the series here: https://gracenpeaceyoga.com/2019/06/07/the-freedom-of-dying-before-you-die-lets-talk-about-death-part-4/
Grace and peace,